Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Examining Cipolla’s “Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, Part II: The ‘Intelligent’ Group

"In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous."  - Robert G. Ingersoll

To expand on my first article discussing Carlo M. Cippola’s essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, I want to look at each of the four categories in detail.  Today’s focus is on the ‘intelligent’ group and where they are (and are not) in society.

Cipolla’s definition of an intelligent person is one who tends to usually make a gain while yielding a gain to another.  Or put more generally, one who contributes to society while at the same time producing a benefit for themselves.  This definition is a little different than what most people think of as ‘intelligence’, i.e. smarts and quickness of thought.  But I think it is a more accurate definition, at least when considering intelligence in the framework of an entire society.  How many smart people do you know that, despite being quick-thinking or very well-read or a math-whiz, manage to act in a manner that is nonproductive or even counterproductive to either their own or society’s welfare?  Such people may be ‘smart’, but not ‘intelligent’.  Depending on whether they themselves or society as a whole realizes a loss, they would instead fit in the intelligent subgroupings of the ‘helpless’ or ‘bandit’ groups, respectively.

At the same time, this definition would include people that most would not normally consider to be “intelligent”.  Borrowing from popular culture, Forrest Gump would be a good example.  The character may be slow-thinking and not prone to deep thought, but at the same time he’s aware of his limitations and still manages to go through life and not only benefit himself (becoming wealthy) yet also yield a benefit to others and society (opening a successful business among other things).  Sure it’s an extreme example and a story involving quite a bit of luck, but it still applies.  His sort-of-girlfriend Jenny on the other hand, despite being quicker of thought than Forrest, would fall in the ‘helpless’ category for most of her life as she was often a victim of others and her own self-destructive behaviors.

So who are the intelligent people in our society?  From this definition, it would include anyone whose lot in life improves while at the same time making a positive contribution to society, even if it’s a small one.  This would be the small, mid-size, or large business owner that offers a useful service or product to society while providing people with the opportunity for employment.  Or the scientists, engineers, inventors, artists, and ‘creators’ who not only bring new technologies, ideas, and useful or aesthetic things into existence.  Or the doctors, nurses, and researchers that actually improve peoples’ health or expand the frontiers of medical knowledge (note that this doesn’t include ALL doctors and such… there’s a good number that would fit in the ‘bandit’ category, otherwise the dysfunctional state of American health care could not exist).  Or the blue-collar tradesman (carpenter, mechanic, plumber, etc.) or service provider (trucker, janitor, repairman, housecleaner, etc.) who manages to contribute a net positive to society, even if it’s a small contribution, while still managing to save and turn that income into a better life for themselves and their families (it may be a lot harder these days for such people to personally prosper in these occupations, but it still does happen).  The scale of the combined benefits to both society and themselves may put one person like more solidly in this category than another person, but as long there IS a net benefit realized for both themselves and society they’d both be considered ‘intelligent’.  

As for myself?  Well I suppose there are very few who don’t think of themselves as being in the ‘intelligent’ group, right?  I admit that I do, but I will also be the first to admit that my current contributions to society and the benefits I’m receiving in my career are not nearly as big as they should be.  Without going into detail, I currently work at an IT job that, while providing some small benefit to the government organization for which my company works, is not producing that much of an overall benefit to society.  Part of it is the nature of the work, but the greater part of it is the fact that the client is a government organization that is horribly run and inefficient (though by comparison its parent organization and other government agencies it’s probably a top performer).  In fact if I were to judge my contribution to society based solely on my current job, given my job’s decent salary but minimal societal contribution I’d probably be really close to that line crossing from the ‘intelligent’ group to the ‘bandit’ group, just because the job's effective contribution to society is so minimal.  And that is the biggest reason I will not only be leaving my job next year, but do something entirely different by striking out on my own.  I feel if one has the means and opportunity to do something greater, to not at least try for it is not only cheating oneself but is also a bit of a slap in the face to those who never get the same opportunities.

So I challenge you to ask yourself this.... how would you rate your job's or career's true contribution to society?  Are you contributing, or are you actually taking more than you give?

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